Lessons for pharmacists from a sexual coercion case
Friday, August 18, 2017
The racy details of a recent accusation against an 81-year-old pharmacist are getting a lot of attention in the media.
According to the alleged victim, the pharmacist forced her to remove her clothing in front of him in exchange for filling her prescription for Oxycontin. The pharmacist, Robert Kenzia, is the owner of MacLeod's Drugs in Niagara Falls, New York. Apparently, the police found the evidence convincing enough to arrest him.
Personally, I find the whole case a little difficult to believe. Not that it couldn't be true, but it is just hard to imagine why someone possessing a perfectly legal prescription — which she could go anywhere to obtain — would have to undress to get her pills from this guy.
"I had to come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays before the pharmacy opened or after they closed when he was the only one there," the alleged victim said.
If true, I hope this poor woman gets the justice she deserves. And if not, I hope this pharmacist recovers from this horrible attack on his character.
But, true or not, the case is a valuable reminder of the importance of the issue of sexual misconduct in the pharmacy profession.
Last year, U.S. Pharmacist ran a two-part series on the subject, citing several noteworthy cases of pharmacists who had abused their position of authority and privilege through sexual coercion. In one case a "pharmacist from Maryland asked a female customer at the retail pharmacy where he was employed to 'exchange sex for pills.'"
As the authors of the articles pointed out, this problem is one that cannot be ignored by our profession. Part of the solution, they say, begins with "acknowledging the potential opportunities that may be created by the power associated with a pharmacist's access to drugs and by the social status associated with the position itself."
As a practicing pharmacist writing to other practicing pharmacists, I share these things just to keep us alert. I believe the vast majority of practicing pharmacists hold themselves to a high standard of ethics, and there are always a few bad apples on every tree.
But anyone could become the victim of an accusation. Therefore, I highly recommend that you take the utmost caution in the way you practice to minimize that risk.
From my own experience in retail pharmacy, I think the following points are important in order to avoid the suspicion of sexual misconduct. This list is not comprehensive. They may not always be possible in every setting, but they are at least a starting point for avoiding the types of accusations some pharmacists have experienced:
1. Security cameras are your friend. Be sure they are working and pointing in the best direction. Ideally, you should confirm that they are recording activity and that they are of sufficient quality to prove your innocence if needed.
2. Beware of situations where you are forced to work alone with another employee or entirely alone in the pharmacy. It is unfortunate that we have to think that way today. But when it comes to protecting your integrity, it is always better if there are more witnesses than just yourself.
3. Speak up about situations that are becoming inappropriate. If you find yourself in a workplace where either patients, co-workers, bosses or other healthcare professionals are encouraging inappropriate sexual language or conduct, speak up about it sooner rather than later.
4. Protect those around you. Sometimes sexual misconduct can be perpetrated by one of your patients against another. I read a blog post a while back about a female customer who was being sexually harassed by a male customer in a Walgreens pharmacy. She reported how awful and uncomfortable this situation was to the pharmacist on duty. He apparently told store management who, in turn, did nothing. We all have a responsibility to step up and step in if we perceive someone around us is being targeted like that.
5. Be careful with what you say, especially if we are talking about a private conversation between yourself and a patient who is looking for an addictive substance. Certain situations are simply more risky than others. And when dealing with someone with an addiction, you have to protect yourself (and them) against situations that could involve sexual entrapment.
6. Meeting a patient "after hours" or outside of normal business hours for the delivery of medications, particularly controlled substances, is a big red flag. Don't do it.
I do hope they can uncover the truth about the Niagara Falls pharmacist and his patient. In the meantime, we as pharmacists need to cover ourselves with a few precautions against sexual misconduct.
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